February 2, 2017
The Power of Vulnerability
The lights go up for the night and I can finally relax and breathe. For the last hour or so I have been wrapped up in the glorious ‘Man of La Mancha’ performing at the Capitol Theater in Downtown Salt Lake City. It is a special ladies’ night for me with two of my sisters Ariel and Melissa. Ariel, my third to the oldest sister, a dance teacher at BYU by profession, and half way through her third pregnancy is sitting on my left. The oldest of my family, Melissa is sitting on my right. Melissa is the front of house manager for the Utah Symphony and Opera and is how we have free tickets to this performance. She is also the most dramatic person I know. A theater education major from Southern Utah University, engaged in the theater, and a new mom. There is never dull when she is around, which is evident in her blog: “My Life: a living comedy of errors”. Which is why I should not have been surprised to see her completely break down into an ugly cry when the cast of the show announced that we would now all sing the Impossible Dream together.
I had felt myself getting emotional throughout the night as I got sucked into the story of Don Quixote and his great efforts to “dream the impossible dream” despite the horrifying reality. When it came time for him to sing the song for the first time in the performance, I had to choke back a lot of tears because there was no way that I was going to cry in public. When the show finally ended, I was relieved that I didn’t have to work to control my emotions anymore. Without any warning, the words were being projected on a screen so that the audience could sing-a-long in one final performance of that song. Everything in me was fighting against my emotions screaming: “It’s just a song! Its shameful to cry in public!”. Not even seconds into the song and Melissa caught my attention with her face twisted so dramatically into the biggest frown and loudest sob. She had lost it and watching her, I had now lost the battle as we all sang: “This is my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, to fight for the right, without question or pause, to be willing to march into Hell, for a heavenly cause…”(Darion). “How does she do it?” I would later ask myself. “How can she bring herself to show so much raw emotion instantly and without reservation?” Brene Brown would say that she is living ‘whole heartedly’ and with vulnerability which allows her to gain more authentic connections as she lives by basic principles like letting herself be seen, loving with her whole heart, practicing gratitude and joy, and believing that she is enough(Brown). Is it really worth it to live vulnerably?
Brene Brown has a degree, masters, and PHD in social work. While exploring her field, and wanting to expand perceptions, she began searching through the facts from the basics of social work called connection. While the mindset of many in the social work field is to “embrace the chaos”, she has always sought to “break it down, organize it, and put it into a bento box”(Brown). What was supposed to be a single year turned into six years of gathering stories, and analyzing data. It was in the assembled data that Ms. Brown began to see some similarities among many of the participants that she came across a “breakdown” in vulnerability.
Let’s begin to deconstruct what she claims. A claim of fact beginning with a clarification that “connection is why we’re here”, and leading to a claim of policy, Brene states that “for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.”(Brown); in other words, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. I first want to pose the question of what it means to be connected with someone. Facebook and other means of social media allow us to be ‘connected’ to hundreds of people and yet be far apart. Talking specifically of a more emotional connection, it would be easier to understand the need to be emotionally authentic. Furthermore, is allowing ourselves to be seen signifying that we should tell others our faults and mistakes? The point is that we often try to hide our faults because we are afraid of shame but if we let ourselves be seen, we connect authentically.
Her second claim based on value comes from a selection of the study that showcased how the vulnerable live their lives. Nicknamed the “whole hearted”(Brown), she expresses how those who live vulnerably can do so because they have a sense of love and belonging. I agree and disagree to this and will add that vulnerable people who have a sense of love and belonging are less likely to get hurt because of that support system but I do believe that one can live vulnerably even if they do not come from a place of love and belonging. I have great respect for those people who try to be authentic and vulnerable despite a lack of worthiness like the underdog and those searching for fresh starts. This worthiness, or sense of love and belonging, instigates a sense of courage; a courage to be imperfect and show compassion to others which allows them to open up to being seen.
Brene Brown’s third claim founded on fact comes as she explains how “vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, love, and creativity” and yet it is also the center of shame and guilt. I was hesitant to cry when the sing-a-long started because of a fear of feeling ashamed for being too emotional. How much do we let fear dominate our lives and the way we feel? I agree that everything around us requires some level of vulnerability from us and that is why many people often ‘numb’. Our point to using substances that numb is it to prevent us from feeling vulnerable, however we “cannot selectively numb”(Brown). When you use a numbing substance, you numb everything; the happy, the sad, the good, the bad. Although our efforts to not feel leave us in a state of vulnerability that puts us on a further cycle to numb even more, it not the only reason for addictions.
Dr. Brown’s lecture can be aimed to many people through many ages but there are specific moments that suggest a special aim to parents and middle aged adults. Being a parent herself, she expresses how “it is our goal as parents not raise children to become perfect” but to let them know that they are “worthy of love and belonging despite imperfections”(Brown). In addition to this example she speaks of our influence in the work force and how believing that we are fundamentally enough causes us to have more patience and compassion for others. These points are part of what we can tell her purpose was for the talk.
There are four main points that she emphasized near the end that we can conclude were her purpose. The first being the challenge to “let ourselves be seen”(Brown) which is to let everyone around you see you for who you are and not hold back the emotions that we are so afraid of sharing. Second, is to love with our whole hearts even when there is no guarantee. This is particularly hard in the world today as we often say to ourselves that we will love them only if they love us back. Third, she expresses a need for us to practice gratitude and joy. I wish she would have gone more in depth on this point but will conclude that it plays a part in helping us accept ourselves. Lastly, and most emphasized by Brene is how we all need a strong belief that we are ‘enough’. This is especially hard in the world to day because of all the media around us that yell that we need more. I agree that who we are and what we are is enough and that there is no need to be more dramatic or more beautiful. We are the way we are.
In conclusion, I am working on it. There are a few of those last points that myself and many others have not mastered yet. Evidence shows that although we can make connections in may ways, that one way of making authentic connections is through living with vulnerability. Thus, we should continue to do our best in letting ourselves be seen, loving with our whole hearts, practicing gratitude and joy, and believing that we are enough so that we can live more vulnerably which will increase our ability to connect and fulfil that part of our purpose in life. Until then, I will continue to watch in awe and take notes from the many others around, including my sister Melissa, as to how to live vulnerably so that my life may be rich in authentic connections.
Brown, Brene. “The Power of Vulnerability.” Ted Talk. 01 Feb. 2017. Lecture.
Darion, Joe, and Mitch Leigh. “The Impossible Dream.” Reel Classics. N.p., 1972. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
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